Saturday, January 15, 2011

Bound to Last

Bound to last: 30 writers on their most cherished book / ed. Sean Manning; foreword by Ray Bradbury.
Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, c2010.
224 p.

This is a collection of essays by 30 writers, about their most memorable book. Not the book they first read or memorized or which most affected their writing style, but the physical object that meant most to them in their lives. It's a paean to the physicality of paper and print.

The contributing authors are varied, and I hadn't heard of most of them. But there were some lovely discoveries. Not only is there a mix of gender, but there are two translated essays (from Chinese & from Farsi); there are writers of fiction and of travel or non-fiction as well. And each of them has made their idiosyncratic choice of a book that has stayed with them, either in memory or in actual fact.

There are almost too many poignant, breath-catching moments to share in this one. Any bookish person will both relate and begin to wonder which book they would write their own essay about. Out of the entire collection there was only one essay I wasn't impressed with; the others surprised with their choices and their reasons for holding to that particular book.

Some examples -- Julia Glass, writing about Roar and More, a picture book I'm not familiar with. She first saw it on Captain Kangaroo and insisted her parents buy it for her, and now reads it to her children. It meant so much to her that she put it into one of her novels, and because of this, in a roundabout way met the author. Wonderful stuff, and an instant inspiration to seek out that book!

Or Terrence Holt writing about The Merck Manual -- funny and moving and making it clear why this particular reference book affected him deeply. It was oracular to him as a child reader, but as he notes near the end of his essay, "the problem with oracles, as the Greeks keep trying to tell us, is that foreknowledge never helps. With self-knowledge we may understand what our story means; but the ending remains beyond our power to change or even know."

I was surprised by Anthony Doerr's essay, The Story and Its Writer; this writer was largely unknown to me but this turned out to be my favourite piece in the book. His writing was deep, nostalgic and really beautiful. Talking about how what we read becomes part of us as deeply as what we eat, he says:

Maybe we build the stories we love into ourselves. Maybe we digest stories... Our eyes walk tightropes of sentences, our minds assemble images and sensations, our hearts find connections with other hearts. A good book becomes part of who we are, perhaps as significant a part of us as our memories. A good book flashes around inside, endlessly reflecting. Its shapes, its people, its places become our shapes, our people, our places.
We take in a story. We metabolize it. We incorporate it.

This is one I'll recommend to everyone I know who loves books. This is primarily a love song to paper and print, with very little 'anti-technology' sentiment, rather, a focus on 'pro-physical-book'. Very enjoyable reading indeed, and I am now pondering what "my book" would have been, had I been a published author asked to contribute to this lovely collection. I am holding out hope that there will someday be a second volume in the same vein.

What about you? Do you have that One Book in your life?

Other reviews:

Kerry at Pickle Me This says "Books as objects are never just about the books, of course, and so this anthology encompasses the whole wide world"

Sam at Book Chase says "This is one that book lovers will want to read more than once – a book that deserves a place of honor on their bookshelves"

Colleen at Chasing Ray says "Manning has done a killer job here of getting great things out of his contributors"


  1. I love books about books. I can't think of any One that stands out in my life, though...

  2. I absolutely loved this book; for me, it was truly a "feel good" book. Glad to see that you also have a high opinion of the collection. Thanks, too, for the link.

  3. Jeane - I've been trying to think of that "one book" as well but haven't been able to as yet

    Sam - yes, a definite Feel Good book!

    Eva - oh, I think you'd like this one


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